I’ve been poking around the world of wine recently, both for some stories I have done for the New York Times and a book I am contemplating. Two things have come up this week that bring together my work on Isaias Hellman and Towers of Gold and winemaking.
First, I got a chance to tour Pt. Molate in Richmond, the place where Hellman and other members of the California Wine Association built the world’s largest wine processing facility in 1908.
The CWA, which controlled about seven-eighths of California’s wine production (everything from growing grapes, making wine, bottling and shipping it) lost its facilities in the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco. The organization then turned to the East Bay, at a point north of today’s Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, where a facility would be next to the railroad and a port. It built a massive brick building with crenellated towers resembling a German castle.
Winehaven, as the plant was called, shut down during Prohibition and the Navy ran a fuel depot on the property for dozens of years. The Navy has left and a Berkeley developer and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians are trying to build a five-star resort complete with Indian gaming on the property. The main Winehaven building still stands, and the developers would repair it and turn it into the casino.
Pt. Molate has been closed to the public for years since much of the ground is contaminated. But you can drive through and see the castle, old bungalows that once housed winery staff and then navy personnel, a vine covered warehouse, and more. In my tour, I got to see the air raid shelter in the factory’s basement and there were still cans of drinking water from 1953, stacks of gurneys, portable commodes, and wool blankets. The Navy left a lot of stuff when it closed the fuel dept. The Richmond Museum is taking a lot of it, but debris remains.
I really enjoyed my tour and the chance to glimpse this side of Isaias Hellman. He dabbled in wine all his life, buying the renowned Rancho Cucamonga in 1871. He hired the French wine maker Jean Louis Sansevain to run his vineyards, and he exported wine around the country.
Which brings me to my next connection: this blog post from a group of wine lovers about Hellman’s 1875 sweet wine called Angelica. They tasted it two days ago and gave it a 97 rating! That’s very impressive for a wine so old.
Richard Jennings of Mountain View, the taster, assessed the angelica this way: Bricked medium cranberry red color with clear meniscus; fascinating, VA, coffee liqueur, chocolate, raisinette nose; tasty, rich, chocolate, orange, raspberry, coffee liqueur, raspberry syrup palate with good acidity; long finish (bottled from wood in 1921; reminiscent of both a mature Port, but with greater color -- no doubt due to the 46 years in wood before bottling -- and a mid-1800s vintage Madeira Bastardo, i.e., vintage Madeira from a red grape, with the acidity of a Terrantez or Verdelho)
I have a few bottles of this in my cellar. Anyone want to come and try it with me?